The nation’s health czar has spoken: All Americans should take the swine flu vaccine.
We do have a right, however, to say that we’ll be the judge of that.
What’s most important is that whatever decision people make, it should be made with as much knowledge as possible.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said recently that everyone needs to get vaccinated against the flu that has been linked to 600 deaths this year, and promised that with five companies making the vaccine, there eventually will be enough to go around.
That could take time, as the substances are still largely in production.
Sebelius’ comments came as she announced the launch of a publicity campaign to get as many people vaccinated as possible.
Skeptics could argue this is another effort to frighten Americans of impending emergency and the government’s heroic actions to keep them safe. That may or may not be the case; while hundreds of cases of the H1N1 flu have been identified and some cases have proven fatal, those figures actually aren’t out of the normal incidence of various types of flu-related illnesses and deaths that occur each year.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say pregnant women and small children especially should be inoculated against the H1N1 virus — two doses of the vaccine are recommended for children ages 9 and younger.
This concerns some people who note that in addition to the fact that this flu is no more prevalent or lethal than other versions of the disease, the vaccine has been rushed into production and thus long-term results aren’t known.
The Associated Press reports that 38 percent of parents polled said they would not agree to have their children vaccinated against H1N1. Some acknowledged they don’t see the threat as great as officials say it is, while others noted concerns about the vaccine’s safety.
The vaccine contains thimerosal, which contains ethyl mercury. The scientific journal NeuroToxicology has published the results of a study that found newborn monkeys given a hepatitis vaccine containing thimerosal had significant delays in developing basic motor skills including rooting, suckling and visual following. Mercury is a known neurological toxin.
Clearly, people aren’t monkeys, and the amount of vaccine given in the test might not be comparable to what a larger child receives in the flu vaccine. However, the results are noteworthy and could affect parents’ decision to agree to approve the flu vaccine for themselves or their children.
Considering the many drugs and vaccines that are made every year, they do have a strong track record. However, there have been cases where FDA approval might have been premature. Unfortunately, because these vaccines affect human health and lives, those mistakes can be tragic.
Each person will live with the consequences of deciding whether to take the vaccine and accept the risks that go with it, or forgo vaccination and accept the risk of catching a possibly fatal disease. Because of this, the ultimate decision lies in the hands of the individual, not the government.
CDC information on the H1N1 virus is available at
The NeuroToxicology report can be accessed at